As the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have been the hottest producers in hip-hop, pop, and R & B for several years now: Jay-Z, Mystikal, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, No Doubt, and Britney Spears are among the dozens of artists that have hired the Virginia Beach duo to craft them a hit. Their stuttery, dry rhythms and minimal beeps, rings, and liquid tones put them in league with Timbaland, but their trademark is the combo of that hardness and smooth vocal hooks–Williams himself sang the catchy falsetto bit on Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me).” Both Williams and Hugo came from a performance background: Williams was in a hip-hop group with Timbaland called Surrounded by Idiots, and he and Hugo also had a vocal act that was discovered by new jack swing innovator Teddy Riley at a talent show. They became Riley’s proteges, cutting their teeth in the studio with groups like SWV and Riley’s own Blackstreet. After everything they touched started turning to gold, they formed N*E*R*D (which stands for “no-one ever really dies”) with Shay, an old friend. The group’s debut, In Search of… (Virgin), was initially a synthetic production, juggling hip-hop, soul, hard rock, reggae, and even a touch of bossa nova; it was released last year in Europe, but before it hit the streets in the U.S. Williams and Hugo decided to recut it using live musicians–specifically a Minneapolis funk-rock band called Spymob–to augment their digital creations. The rock orientation gives the music some extra heft, but at the expense of the original recording’s loose soulfulness. It’s nonetheless funny stuff: the pummeling “Lapdance” compares pandering politicians to strippers; in “Tape You” the hapless narrator implores his bisexual girlfriend to get busy with another woman on camera, but in “Brain” it’s smarts that spur the come-ons. The live band will perform here too; it remains to be seen whether they’ve figured out how to transcend the record’s stiffness. Friday, June 7, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.